“The King is dead. Long live the King.” Hoskins hoisted his nearly empty pint, looking hopefully around for somebody to notice this and offer to refill it.
“The king ain’t dead, you bloody sod,” said Smith. “He’s bleeding abdicating. To marry that American tart. The divorcée.”
“I seen her picture in the papers,” added Woodcock. “She’s a looker, but I can’t say as I’d give up the Crown to marry her.”
“Thin as a sodding skeleton,” spat Smith. “Probably bruises the Royal Balls on her bleedin’ hipbones.”
“Well,” said Hoskins, still holding aloft his now empty glass. “We ought to drink to him anyway. The next King, I mean. Prince Albert. In a can.” He got awkwardly to his feet and scowled at the men hunched over the greasy table. “Now one of you chaps stand me to another pint so’s we can do it proper.”
Sunday Photo Fiction
For those who don’t know, in 1936 King Edward VIII abdicated the Throne of Great Britain to marry an American socialite. It threw England into a constitutional crisis on the eve of WWII. Public opinion about the matter varied considerably.
The sea knew his secret. He had that night turned his back on God forever, given his life to the Devil. It was God who bade Gustavo to slide the body of his brother over the side, to pray for his salvation and commit him to the deep. Gustavo had tried to obey, had recited a novia for strength as he washed the dead face with seawater, even lifted his brother’s stiffened legs over the gunwale. Marino looked peaceful, as though he was asleep. But Gustavo felt the rage again rise in him, unfathomable black anger at this cowardly desertion.
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel Miramar, set in Cuba during the revolution. This is the first time I have regurgitated anything for a prompt, but this seemed to fit. Those who know me know I also author another regular contribution to Friday Fictioneers under an alias, so there’s at least one original snippet.
Here’s the synopsis of Miramar, if anyone is interested:
Hawser, a former bombardier tormented by nightmares of the war, takes a fall for the mob and is sentenced to life on Alcatraz. On the eve of a planned escape, the mobsters unexpectedly arrange for his release. He is stripped of his citizenship and sent to Cuba to work for MEYER LANSKY at the Riviera Hotel as de facto babysitter for Hollywood stars who want to cut loose.
While acting as bodyguard to the visiting Senator John Kennedy, Hawser is taken by Castro’s revolutionaries to their base deep in the Sierras where a beautiful rebel sergeant steals his heart and convinces him of the righteousness of her cause.
As civil war engulfs the island, Hawser is caught between the wrath of the Havana mob, his love for the girl, and the brutal vengeance of Che Guevara’s rebels, but learns his real enemy is the violence within himself.
When Uncle Forbes came to dinner, his invariable subject was death.
Death, in its infinite varieties. Death by misfortune was a favorite, as was death by misadventure, death from disease, death most foul, death expected, and death unexpected. With Uncle Forbes, the topic was inexhaustible.
When other conversation would spring up about something other than death– how a certain function was performed at court, or the rules of a particular game– Uncle Forbes would deftly turn to the death that invariably lay at its heart.
“The subject of which you speak, though imbecile, nonetheless offers some interesting things to say about death,” he would say. Another time he might inject, “That’s all very well, but any idiot can see the gist of the thing is mortality.”
As he aged, he only grew more obstinate. He took to wearing black every day of the week and staring at his friends in a peculiar way that made them uncomfortable. When invitations inevitably fell off and then ceased altogether, Uncle Forbes passed his days attending the funerals of city men with whom he had at most a passing acquaintance.
“Well, I suppose we all must come to it the end,” he’d intone. If feeling loquacious, he might add, “Ano Domini.”
Sunday Photo Fiction
I’d looked forward to the outdoor yoga class in the park through the entire winter, so I didn’t feel bad about taking the second donut, saying “why not?” to the dessert tray. I was at my heaviest weight, but kept myself from usual despondency by visualizing a midsummer me, lithe and fit from yoga classes and sensible diet. I bought a new mat and a pair of outfits that didn’t make me feel like a cow. I arrived early, unrolled my mat near the gravel where I could see the sunrise. I heard birds begin to sing and insects buzz.
I am sitting by the window at Pho Vîet on Pike when I see my ex wife walk past, arms swinging and happy like she used to be before the bad times.
I don’t even have time to knock on the glass when my childhood best friend goes past in the other direction, riding my bike he borrowed and never returned. He hasn’t aged a day.
Then I get a look behind him, high up on the concrete parking ramp. It’s my old Westfalia, the one I smashed into an Iowa drainage ditch in the midst of the bender that sent me to prison for three years and eventually made me sober. It looked like new, not a scratch on her. I remembered that time I run out of gas at the top of a disused logging road in the Olympic, the rain pelting through the pines and turning the road to gumbo. I lay beneath that camper roof and listened to the water sluice and spatter the canvas an inch above my face, as alone as a man can be and perfectly satisfied in that condition.
And son of a bitch, who should it be but my old dad racing past on the Vespa I never saw in person but only in a black and white photo I lost long ago. He is grinning and younger than when he married my ma, curly black hair ruffling in the slipstream.
I leave without paying and run straight up 2nd Avenue. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
A bunch of us came out. Heck, practically the whole town. We didn’t have no particular business there. Just something to do. Sheriff’s men were there, along with some state troopers. They had got the whole marsh cordoned off with that crime scene tape you see on TV. By the time we got there, they had already found the first body, the younger one. I didn’t get to see before they got her wrapped up and into the ambulance, but I saw the second one all right. Tell you the truth, it didn’t really look like a body at all.
Dreams in the night. Waking dreams.
Now she is wandering through the small town airport dragging the suitcase behind her like a reluctant child. Her eyes scan the expanse of glittering floor, the sea of worn blue carpet. A woman in uniform smiles, asks if she may help.
Another city. Days later, or years. Eternal. She stares through the tall window across the flat roofs topped with functional gray blocks, pools of black water, crumbling chimneys. Gleaming towers of copper and cobalt and cerulean, poetic names that soar above the real colors chosen by the architect. Red. Blue. Green.
She holds a glass of wine. The man takes her name, incurious, eyes habitually gliding down her chest and back. May I help you? He doesn’t smile.
The chair is hard and hurts her ass. When was the last time she thought of him, of them, of any of them?
They are calling her flight. Another city. Another destination.
Sunday Photo Fiction
We are now used to the sight of maimed young men in the streets and at cafés, their empty sleeves and missing legs and eyes like the windows of abandoned houses. We have learned to politely ignore an injury when conversing, avert our gaze from the hook-hand or peg-leg. We concentrate on the young man’s face, smile into it as though teaching a new song to a child.
But here in Sidcup at the Queen’s hospital in Kent, it is different. Many of the benches in the Royal Park and the village square are painted a bright yellow. The wounded men have been ordered to sit upon these benches and no others.
They have been painted this unusual color to prepare the citizens as they approach, warn them about what they will see if they look upon these wounded. We wish to prevent the citizens from recoiling in shock and horror, for this will be bad for the men’s spirits.
You see, the Queen’s hospital specializes in facial injuries. A rifle fired across the trenches will reach its target, though only a fraction of its power remains. It is sufficient to tear a man’s face off, shatter his jaw or cheekbone, yet leave him very much alive. The men arrive here masked in bandages. The bandages hide horror beyond imagination.
Our surgical techniques are improving, but they are still crude. The procedure is painful and involves many operations performed over several years’ time. I will generally advise a man so wounded to forego the operations and instead allow us to fit him with a mask modeled from a photograph of him taken before the war, painted to exactly match his skin tone.
Sometimes the man will ask me to kill him.
Sunday Photo Fiction
A century ago, all of Europe was feeding its young men into a meat grinder. The battle of the Somme, which lasted from July to November, killed 750,000 British and French soldiers as well as 537,000 German and Austrian troops. Neither side gained any advantage from all this carnage, and the war continued for another two years. It was so horrible that many thought we would fight no more wars, but here we are a hundred years later and still selling the idea that this is a noble undertaking. Facial injuries in particular were especially awful, since the loss of face equated to the loss of humanity. If you’re interested in the research that went into this short piece, you may click here.
Max always came in around three, a folded New York Times in his pocket. I’d have his drink ready before he sat down at the bar. Max dressed like a college professor, tweed jacket and sweater vest. He always sat on the same stool.
Midway through his second drink he’d ask for the dictionary. We’d spend the afternoon working together through the crossword puzzle. He’d have finished and put away his paper before Dave, the night barman, came in with his own Times.
Dave would give Max his crossword, which Max would complete in five minutes, smirking, using a pen.
“Stephens,” said Mr. Wentworth. “When you’ve finished your lunch I need to see you in my office.”
Stephens took his time, made his thermos of tea last the full half hour. Screwing the top back on, he placed the container into his messenger bag and brought it with him. He knew what was coming.
The office was in the Tower proper, atop a dark spiral staircase set with iron-bound cells every dozen feet or so. As always, he admired the stonework, the steps worn to smooth concavity by fifteen hundred years of foot traffic. The heavy wooden door at the top was ajar. Stephens wondered if prisoners taken up for execution had a similar icy feeling in their gut.
Mr. Wentworth sat behind his work table, his expression neutral. He pointed to a chair. Stephens sat.
“We have had reports on your conduct,” he began, tapping a folder in front of him. “Several of our visitors have remarked on things you told them during the tours.”
Stephens said nothing.
“For example,” said Mr Wentworth as he took up the folder and opened it, “a Mrs. Mulwrath from Surrey writes that you described the Duke of Sussex’s head bouncing down the stairs like a football. She said you laughed as you told her. Laughed maniacally, in her exact words. Her daughter was quite upset.”
He peered at Stephens over his glasses. Stephens seemed to be looking at the stone wall behind him. “You are aware that, as a docent, you have a responsibility to historical accuracy? Have you an explanation for this?”
Stephens swallowed. “It’s just that the actual history is so bloody dull.”
Sunday Photo Fiction